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Liz Truss’ disastrous interviews proves the importance of local radio

Liz Truss, on her 24th day as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, sat in a room awaiting her first of eight interviews with regional radio stations.

It had been six days since her Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng announced a ‘mini-budget’ and it was the first time she had spoken publicly since.

The pound had tanked, interest rates skyrocketed and the UK was plunged into the depths of despair. 

Perhaps she could use this opportunity as a warm-up for upcoming national broadcast appearances where she’s bound to face a grilling. Perhaps she thought she could swerve intense scrutiny. Perhaps she thought it would be a walk in the park.  

The night before, there was a fair amount of online snobbery from political commentators, tweeting about the easy ride that Truss would face at the hands of regional hosts. 

How wrong they were.

The interviews promptly went viral as the presenters held Truss to task in one of the most remarkable media-rounds I have ever had the pleasure of witnessing.  

They had around five minutes with the PM, like a GP given just one short appointment to reach a conclusion about the health of their patient through an expertly selected series of questions and answers. 

The co-morbidities of Truss’ government were examined on the table. The diagnosis? Bleak. According to the polls, it could prove terminal.

Her interview with BBC Radio Leeds breakfast host, Rima Ahmed, began with a cordial, ‘Have you slept well?’. Like a martial arts fighter, bowing to her opponent before striking at the jugular, Ahmed went on to list the catastrophic consequences of Truss’ fiscal plans, before asking Truss why she had stayed silent for so long.  

‘Where’ve ya been?’, Rima asked in her wonderful straight-talking Yorkshire accent. 

Too often, strong regional accents are underrepresented in lobby journalists and national broadcasters who face the Cabinet on a more regular basis. We’re used to hearing northern voices in vox-pops and human-interest stories as victims of the cost of living crisis, but rarely as the voices holding the Prime Minister to account directly.

Regional radio hosts know their audience better than national broadcasters ever could. They know what matters most to local people. They also know they don’t need to keep the Number 10 Press Office sweet with an easy interview to ensure the PM returns for a future on-air segment.   

Another host posed their listeners’ questions to Truss, including ‘What on earth were you thinking?’ and ‘You should be ashamed of what you’ve done. Are you?’. The silence before her likely scripted, evasive responses was deafening. You could hear a pin drop louder than the pound.

Regional radio stations across the UK have been disappearing at an alarming rate. Local radio stations and licensing areas are merged into larger geographical zones, meaning that news and entertainment reports lost their individuality in order to appeal to a larger audience. 

In 2020, my beloved Radio Wave 96.5, the local radio station in my hometown of Blackpool, was closed as it merged with the Greatest Hits Radio network. BBC Radio Lancashire’s Blackpool and Lancaster offices were also closed the same year.

It left a gaping hole in the local community, and I personally grieved the loss of radio jingle earworms promoting local businesses such as Terry’s Carpets, C-Cabs and Fylde Soft Drinks. RIP. 

Local radio gives local people a voice and covers neighbourhood issues that would otherwise be relegated to the bottom of the story pile for national coverage.  

Fracking has been a very personal and contentious issue in Blackpool for many years. Many will have read stories about the dangers of fracking in the news, but with the only ‘hydraulic fracturing site in the UK to successfully produce shale rock, the people of Lancashire know it first-hand.  

In 2011, 57 fracking-linked earthquakes were detected in a five-month period in Lancashire. 

Shortly after, I spoke to a man whose wife is buried in the same cemetery as my grandad. He was greatly distressed about fracking – terrified that the earthquakes would lead to his wife’s body being disinterred and that he couldn’t afford the emotional or financial costs of burying her a second time. 

Anyone who had taken time to speak with locals would know that a lot of us do not support the lift on the fracking ban, yet Liz Truss yesterday refused to rule out fracking for good on BBC Radio Lancashire.

While she insisted that fracking would only go ahead with the consent of the local community, when pressed by the host, she refused to accept that the local community had already spoken, that local councils had made their decision and some of her own Tory MPs were opposed to a change in plan.

‘Why can’t you tell us this morning that there won’t be a return to fracking in Lancashire?’, he asked.  

Truss paused for a moment in silence. Perhaps the dead air was a forecast for her career as PM.  

‘I don’t accept the premise of your question,’ she replied. Well, many don’t accept the premise of her policies.

As the weeks roll on, the cost of living crisis continues and the predictions of the energy crisis become an unprecedented reality, we are no longer listening to the news, we are living it.

Our concerns and communities must not be merged into and forgotten under a national agenda.

Which is why it’s more important than ever to have local journalists, local broadcasters and local news stations delivering the stories that matter most to the people living close by.

Liz Truss may have underestimated the power of local radio, but she did so at her peril.

Do you have a story you’d like to share? Get in touch by emailing [email protected]. 

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